Even though fasting is nothing new, its properties to boost the immune system were unknown until recently. Apparently, it removes the obstacles to healing, and the body can use its own ability to heal.
Research has shown that fasting accelerates healing and treats many medical conditions.
Recent studies have revealed the way fasting works on a cellular level. Namely, in the first 24-48 hours of fasting, the stores of glycogen are depleted.
Therefore, this triggers complex biochemical pathways in the body which work to conserve energy while adequately fueling vital organs, and they have beneficial side effects.
According to one recent study, fasting supports the regenerative capacity of the immune system which is extremely helpful in both cases, in healthy people, and in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Previous studies have found that fasting protects mice against toxicity from chemotherapy.
Moreover, researchers found that patients who fasted during their chemotherapy treatments experienced fewer and less severe side effects during fasting cycles compared to non-fasting cycles of chemotherapy.
Fasting Helped Regenerate Immune Cells in Healthy Mice
A team of scientists that conducted an extensive series of experiments found that fasting reduced DNA damage and cell death in white blood cells and bone marrow cells, and decreased chemotherapy-induced mortality in mice.
Furthermore, the white blood cell (WBC) count of the fasting group was normalized after 4-5 cycles of chemotherapy accompanied by fasting.
What’s more, when they analyzed the effects of fasting without chemotherapy, they got similar results: a six-fold increase in newly generated hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs).
HSCs are produced in the bone marrow to increase all blood cells, such as the white blood cells, which modulate immune function.
Due to fasting, the immune cells in healthy mice were regenerated, and the HSC profile of aging mice was returned to that of younger mice.
These dramatic results were quite shocking. According to Valter Longo, primary author of the study, “the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
The team also found that reduced insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) signaling played the main role in the regeneration of immune cells that occurred due to fasting. Decreased levels of IGF-1 are linked to lower risk of cancer and slower aging.
These results made scientists investigate the matter even further and test if this is applicable to humans too. In the clinical trial, patients undergoing chemotherapy were assigned to either 24 or 72-hour fasts before each chemotherapy cycle, and the preliminary results were similar to those of the mice.
The results were an improved immune cell count and a shift toward the “younger” cellular profile in the 3-day fasting group.
Researchers found that fasting regenerates the immune system, due to two reasons: the use of fat and glucose by the body, and the reduction in white blood cells:
“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged … What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting”
Tanya Dorff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital and the study’s co-author, explained:
“while chemotherapy saves lives, it causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy.”
According to this research, fasting from time to time could dramatically boost the immune system in healthy people and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
The few days spent fasting will stimulate an energy shortage and thus boost the natural self-renewing capacity of the immune system, replacing old immune cells with new ones.